AT THIS time of year astronomers tend to take a deep breath, clean winter's dust and dirt from their camera lenses and telescope mirrors and catch up on lost sleep, writes STUART ATKINSON. The sky isn't really dark until after midnight now; there are no major meteor showers until August, and the Milky Way can't be seen until after midnight and even then its running parallel to the horizon and nowhere near its best. Yes, we're now entering a quiet period between the end of the March-April Aurora Season and the beginning of the June-August Noctilucent Cloud Season.

So what is there for the sky watcher to see in these couple of weeks before we all start scanning the post-midnight northern sky for the beautiful wispy whirls and swirls of silvery blue noctilucent clouds?

Now is actually a great time to go bear hunting. At this time of the year the Great Bear (Ursa Major) is easy to find in the sky because the stars are almost directly overhead as soon as the sky is dark enough to see stars. If you go outside, put your head right back and look straight up you'll see the familiar shape of the Big Dipper - which make up the tail and hindquarters of the Great Bear - right above you. And if you face the north and look half way up in the sky you'll see Polaris, the Pole Star, right on the end of what looks like a miniature version of the Big Dipper. This is Ursa Minor, the Little Bear, a cute celestial bear cub following the Great Bear across the sky.

Once you've found Polaris, look down to its lower left and you'll see a brighter, yellow-hued star close to the horizon. This is Capella, and its a very useful guide star for looking for displays of those noctilucent clouds; NLC tend to brew up around or to either side of that star, so if you can find it now you'll know which direction to look in when the NLC season begins in June.